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A Newspaper Notice of a Chancery Case Helps Reconstruct a Family

By Robert W. Barnes, F. M.G. S.

One of the great things about the newspaper subscription site is that it contains clues to your ancestors that might never occur to you. While you would expect or at least hope to find an obituary in an old newspaper, colonial newspapers also contained other important information, such as ads about runaway servants and notices of court cases. The distinguished Maryland genealogist Robert W. Barnes was able to reconstruct an entire family because he ran across a notice to a chancery suit that appeared in the [Annapolis] Maryland Gazette, on 10 August 1797.

Starting with the notice in the Maryland Gazette, Mr. Barnes consulted additional primary and secondary sources, ultimately reconstructing the family of Arthur and Eleanor (Harrison) Charlton of Frederick County, Maryland.  Even if you are not connected to a Charlton, you will want to read the rest of this account for some surprising connections to two famous Americans!

The following notice in the Annapolis Maryland Gazette, dated 10 August 1797 and paraphrased here, recently piqued my interest:

Mrs. Eleanor Charlton, of Frederick Co., died leaving the following heirs: Thomas Hart and his wife Eleanor; John Grosh; Catherine Grosh; William Cleland, and Eleanor his wife; John Ross Key and his wife Phebe; Thomas Charlton; John Charlton; and Arthur Charlton–all of the heirs live outside the state of Maryland, except Thomas Charlton, and all were being sued in chancery by George Murdock and Eleanor his wife; John Ross Key and Phebe his wife; John Usher Charlton; Mary, John Thomas; Arthur and Casper Sheaffe; and Sophia Grosh (the orators).

Because of my interest in a number of the individuals named in the Gazette, I traveled to the Maryland State Archives, where I was able to extract the following information from Chancery Case, No. 3527, Series S512-3636:  The orators state that  Arthur Charlton of Frederick Co., dec., was possessed of considerable estate, and made a will constituting his wife Eleanor the sole executrix. Arthur Charlton gave his son Thomas Charlton five shillings sterling as his full share of the property; his executrix was to sell his property mentioned in the will and divide the proceeds among all his children, except the son Thomas, allowing the widow her third and saying that Alice, wife of Casper Shaaf, was to have 25 pounds less than the rest.

The widow Eleanor administered the estate. After paying Arthur Shaaf  ten pounds current money when he arrived at the age of 21, there remained the sum of $1445 current money from the sale of the property, which sum together with the personal estate of the deceased and the debts due, amount to the sum of 2246.6.0 pounds. The orators stated that the executrix has never made any payments to Arthur Shaaf and only some payments to the other persons. Eleanor died intestate and Casper Shaaf took out letters of administration and has settled and paid away the whole personal property of the said Eleanor, without paying any of the claims of the orators.

After digesting the contents of the suit, I proceeded to consult a variety of published and original sources and was able to compile a considerable amount of information on the members of the Charlton family. While space does not permit me to include all my findings, what follows is a listing of some of the more interesting ones.  And to think, it all started with an entry from an 18th-century newspaper!!

  1. Arthur Charlton died by Septermber 1771. He married Eleanor Harrison on 14 July 1742 (All Saints Parish Register, Frederick Co., in Brumbaugh, Maryland Records, 1:259). Arthur and Eleanor were the parents of (Brumbaugh, Maryland Records, 1:259): 2. Alice, b. 11 August 1743; 3. Thomas, b. 21 November 1745; 4. Eleanor, b.25 June 1748;  5. Mary, b. 31 January 1750; 6. John Usher, b. 21 June 1753; 7. Anne Phoebe Penn Dagworthy, b. 6 February 1756; 8. Jane, b. 23 December 1757, d. unm.; and 9. Elizabeth Lettice, b. 1 January 1763
  2. Alice Charlton, daughter of Arthur (1) and Eleanor, was born  11 August 1743. She married Casper Shaaf on 12 November 1759 (All Saints Parish Register, Brumbaugh, Maryland Records 1:261). Alice and Casper were the parents of (Brumbaugh, 1:261): 10. Mary,  b. 30 August 1761; 11. John Thomas, b. 1 December 1763; 12. Arthur, b. 7 October 1765, d. 15 May 1817; and 13. Casper,  b. 24 January 1775, d. 30 April 1798: Casper Shaaf, a young gentleman whose conduct during the few years of his life promised he would become a useful and ornamental acquisition to society, departed from his sorrowing friends on 30 April (The Key 5 May 1798).
  3. Thomas Charlton, son of Arthur (1) and Eleanor, was born  21 November 1745. He died intestate.
  4. Eleanor Charlton, daughter of Arthur (1) and Eleanor, was born 1747 and died 1828. She married by 1771 George Murdock, born 1742, died 5 May 1805, son of William Murdock (Papenfuse et al, Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, hereafter cited as BDML 2:605-606). George Murdock died 5th inst. in Frederick Town, where he had lived for over 40 years. Interment was in the Episcopal Cemetery (Baltimore Telegraphe 14 May 1805). George and Eleanor were the parents of (BDML: 605): 19. George William, 1822; 20. Eleanor, m. Richard Potts; 21. Ann, m. Richard Potts, Jr.; 22. Harriet, d. by 1822, m. Dr. William Bradley Tyler of Frederick Co.; and 23. Mary, d. 1820.
  5. Mary Charlton,  daughter of Arthur (1) and Eleanor, was born 31 January 1750 and died intestate. She married Peter Grosh (BDML 1:605). Peter Grosh served on the Committee of Observation in 1775, was an Associator in December 1775, and took the Oath of Allegiance in 1778. On 19 September 1780 he was a Captain in the Frederick Town Battalion of Militia In June 1780 he leaned $2,000 for the use of the State of Maryland (Henry C. Peden, Jr., Revolutionary Patriots of Frederick Co.:152). Peter and Mary were the parents of (Henry C. Peden, Jr., Marylanders to Kentucky, 1775-1825, Westminster: Family Line Publications, 1991:61): 24. Eleanor, m. Thomas Hart by license dated 14 April 1795 and moved to Kentucky; 25. John , of full age, moved to parts unknown; 26. Sophia, of full age, was living in Frederick County, but moved to Kentucky where she married Edward Porter Clay; and 27. Catherine, under age in 1797, was living in Kentucky where she m. John W. Hunt of Fayette Co., Kentucky.
  6. John Usher Charlton, son of Arthur (1) and Eleanor, was born 21 June 1753. In 1775 he was a 2nd Lieutenant in Capt. P. Thomas’s militia company, and on 15 May 1776 was a Captain in the 34th Battalion of Militia,.  In 1781 he petitioned to form the horse troops, and as “Usher Charlton” was a private in the horse troops (Henry C. Peden, Jr., Revolutionary Patriots of Frederick Co.:69). John Usher Charlton and Miss Eliza Beatty were married at Frederick Town (The Georgetown Times and the Patowmack Packet 13 October 1790). In 1790 John Usher Charlton was living in Frederick County with one white male over 16, one white female, and three slaves (Heads of Families, 1790…Maryland:63).
  7. Anne Phoebe Penn Dagworthy Charlton, daughter of Arthur (1) and Eleanor, was born about 1756, and died 8 July 1830. She married John Ross Key, born 19 September 1754 in Annapolis, died 11 October 1821 in Frederick Co., and was buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery (Susanna Files Twenty, “Revolutionary Soldiers Buried in Frederick Co.,” Maryland Genealogical Society Bulletin 20 (3) (Summer 1979) 205). Key was named as a son in the will filed 4 January 1772 of Francis Key of Cecil Co. (MWB 38:876). John Ross Key served in one of the original companies raised in June 1775 and served in Boston before that. On 21 June 1775 he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant by the Committee of Frederick County (Twenty, as above:205). John Ross Key was a delegate from Frederick Co. to the Lower House of  the Asembly. 1778-1779, and 1791-1792, and held a number of other offices as well (BDML: 506-507).

Mrs. Ann Phoebe Key, wife of the late John Ross Key, of Frederick Co., died Thursday, 8th inst., in her 74th year, at the house of R. B. Taney, Esq., in Baltimore (Md. Gaz. 15 July 1830).

John Ross and Phebe Penn Key were the parents of: 28. Ann Charlton, b. 1777, d. in infancy; 29. Francis Scott, b. 1779, d. 1843 (author of The Star Spangled Banner); 30. Catherine Charlton, b. 1781, d. 1782; and 31. Ann Arnold Phoebe, b. 1783, d. 1845, m. Roger Brook Taney (author of the infamous Dred Scott decision).


Publisher’s Note:
Robert Barnes is one of Maryland’s leading genealogists and the author of numerous books published by If you have Maryland or, in particular, Baltimore City or County ancestors, please check out the Robert Barnes titles on our web site. You just might find the clue you are looking for in one of his excellent publications.

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